Troop Autopsies Yield Life-Saving Clues

Decision to autopsy all US war dead helps military eliminate equipment flaws
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted May 26, 2009 8:39 AM CDT
Information from troop autopsies has helped improve the equipment used in medical kits on the battlefield, including longer tubes to treat collapsed lungs.   (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
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(Newser) – Navy pathologist Capt Craig T. Mallak's groundbreaking decision to order autopsies on every US casualty killed in Iraq and Afghanistan has helped save the lives of American troops, the New York Times reports. The autopsies—and, since 2004, CT scans—have allowed the military to build a huge database on war injuries and yielded improvements in body armor and battlefield medical kits.

The autopsies are performed soon after the war dead arrive at Dover Air Force Base and families are allowed to request a copy of the report. Around 90% of them do. In earlier wars, autopsies were rarely performed and families were told only that their loved ones had died serving their country. “Personally, I felt that families would no longer accept that," said Mallak, whose efforts have inspired changes at crime laboratories and hospitals across the country.